Mongolia loan and IIT test for Delhi

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2017-08-07 12:50 GMT+8

New Delhi, Aug. 6: India is confronting an old ghost and a difficult demand from a key China critic it wants to win over as an ally: Mongolia's new President, who wants New Delhi to cough up a much-delayed loan and gift his country an Indian Institute of Technology.

Khaltmaagiin Battulga, a former wrestler who was elected President in July, complained about the loan and pitched for the IIT during his first meeting with India's ambassador in Ulan Bator after taking office, two officials told The Telegraph.

The envoy, T. Suresh Babu, had sought the July 20 meeting to hand over invitations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then President Pranab Mukherjee for Battulga to visit New Delhi, the officials said.

But the conversation quickly shifted to how keen the Mongolian leader was to develop his landlocked country's information technology capabilities, and how crucial to the project was the $20m loan India had promised eight years ago but failed to release.

Battulga also asked Babu to tell Modi that he wanted an IIT in Ulan Bator, which the Mongolian President promised to personally supervise.

New Delhi has repeatedly rejected past proposals from other countries for IITs, principally because of a resource and faculty crunch.

India has, however, frequently faced accusations from international partners that it does not deliver on key promises on time, and the latest complaints risk complicating its efforts to woo Mongolia's new leader at a time New Delhi is locked in increasingly tense exchanges with Beijing.

The criticism and the proposal are also reminders that foreign leaders' concerns about China aren't enough to automatically drive them closer to India unless New Delhi proves itself a viable alternative as an economic and developmental partner.

"Delay in the release of payment to vendors and stalling of projects affects our image and leads to questions on our credibility to complete key projects in a timely manner," foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had told a Parliament panel in 2015, the year Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Mongolia.

"(The) MEA (ministry of external affairs) thus requires predictable and full funding."

During his campaign for the presidency, Battulga had repeatedly emphasised that one of his key goals would involve making Mongolia "debt-free" -- code for "less dependent on China". Currently, over 60 per cent of Mongolia's foreign trade is with China.
For India, whose troops have been in a standoff with their Chinese counterparts on a

Himalayan plateau for more than a month now, Battulga's election offered a window to deepen ties with a country that has traditionally depended on its two giant neighbours, Russia and China.

Battulga's election also reflects a growing political trend within Mongolia --- of seeking to break out of the diplomatic sway of Moscow and Beijing by seeking "third neighbours".

Modi's 2015 visit to Ulan Bator was part of New Delhi's efforts to pitch India as a credible "third neighbour". During the visit, the Indian leader had promised a $1-billion line of credit -- India's largest ever soft loan to Mongolia.

Modi had also been quick to congratulate Battaluga and invite him to India, through a letter that Babu was asked to personally deliver to the new President.

But Battulga was prompt to remind Babu, when the Indian diplomat called on him, of the unreleased loan promised by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the previous Mongolian President, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, during his India visit in September 2009.

Battulga told Babu that Mongolia's concerns on the loan were being addressed "very slowly", one of the officials said.

The Mongolian President also told the Indian envoy that the $20m Indian loan would be useful to his country's plans to develop its information technology sector. Mongolia, he said, could spend that money on training professionals.

He then proposed an IIT in Ulan Bator that, he told Babu, the Mongolian presidency would oversee. India has in the past turned down similar requests from Singapore and the UAE.

In addition, Battulga pressed Babu on the establishment of a joint information technology university that had been discussed during Modi's 2015 visit. Babu told Battulga that India was working with the Mongolian foreign ministry on that proposal.

The Mongolian President also complained to Babu that bilateral trade between the countries - just $11m in 2016-17 - was "insufficient".

Bilateral trade between India and Mongolia last year was a third of the levels just two years ago, when it was worth $33m. 

www.telegraphindia.com

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